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one big family. and so we had to help each other. .. re-- we felt safe there. i think like my father want the us to have an education. we knew that education was to a better life. i think he taught all of us would come back home and try to work from there. you with catch this and
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overprograms online at in an interview conducted on the campus of george mason university during the fall for the book festival. in the book she shares her experience with growing up in mexico without her parents. who immigrate to the united states illegally to find work. this is about half an hour. >> what is -- [inaudible] >> the way u grew up knowing it was it was the reference to the united states, but to me because i grew up in the hometown surrounded by mountains, i didn't know where the united states was to me it was the other side of the mountain. during the time my parents were gone, working here in the u.s. i will look at the mountain something i parents were over
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there on the other side of the mountains. that was what it meant to me. >> where did you grow up? originally where were u born. >> in mexico. southern mexico in the little city that nobody has heard of. why mention ak acapulco everybody knows that. it was three hours away from there. >> when did your parents come to the united states? how would were you? >> my father came here in 1977 when i was two years old. and he sent for my mother a few years later. my mother came here in 1980 when was four and a half. >> when did you come to the united states? >> i came to the united states in 1985. >> how would were you? >> in may of 1985, i was nine and a half going on fen. >> what can you tell us about coming to the united states. what was your trek? >> well, i had been separated from my father for eight years. so when he returned to mexico in
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'85, my siblings and i convinced us to bring us back here. he wasn't going come back to mexico. he didn't want to spend my more time separated from him. he begged them to bring us. he didn'tment to bring me because i was nine and a half and he thought i wouldn't be able to make it across the border because we had to run across illegally. so i begged them to bring me here, and we took a bus from mexico city to i think wanna, and . >> on the border. >> yeah. the border, and it was a very long two day bus ride because i had rarely been in any kind of car or any public transportation and i know that car sick many, many times along the way. when we got to the border, my father hired a smuggler to bring us across. >> what do you remember about the experience. >> what i remember is how much
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walking there was, and i remember having a lot of guilty because my father was right, i too little to be making that kind of crossing, and i would get tired and complain about the walking and about the fact that i was thirsty or hungry and tire. my father ended up carrying me a lot of times on his back. we got caught by border patrol the first two times. i felt the guilt because i thought it was my fault that we had gotten caught and the third time. . >> what happens when you get caught? >> well, when we got caught, we got loaded to a van with everyone else that got caught and were taken to the border patrol offices, and i don't remember a lot because we were children, we weren't like talked to by border patrol. they would take my father in to an office to talk to him, and i remember just waiting for him in
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the hallway and the border patrol people were very nice to us. and i remember they even offered to get us a soda so they brought us soda and we were drinking our soda waiting for our dad. it was this mixed feeling where, you know, we've been treated very kindly by the border patrol, but at the same time knowing that they were keeping us from crossing and from being able to have a chance at having our father back in our lives. >> the third time? >> the third time we crossed the border was very scary because my father decided to try it in the dead of night, hoping that the darkness would protect us and help us to cross. and he was right. it was pitch black. we continue see where we were going. we were tripping on rocks and stumbling. what i remember most about the border crossing was the
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helicopter. and there was a helicopter that came back with a search light. we were running for our lives trying to find a place to hide. we crawled under the bushes. and i remember that the beam of the light fell on my shoe, and i was praying so hard that the people up there in the helicopter hadn't seen me. and luckily they didn't, so we made it across. >> where did you spend the first night? >> well, the first night we knead by the time we made it across the border was dawn, and we walked to the second house, and he was responsible for driving us to l.a. and he made us lie down in the backseat and he wouldn't let us sit up. he said we could still get pulled over by border patrol. e spent the whole car ride basically loying down. and he wasn't until we got in santa anna he said you can get
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up now. and so that, you know, just just seeing the things outside the window was amazing. like, i remember, all the palm trees. in my hometown we didn't have palm trees and just the streets that never seem to end and the buildings that seem to reach the sky, and it was just amazing. it was just really amazing. >> where did you live in l.a. when you first got here? >> when i first got l.a., i lived in high land park in northeast los angeles. it was predominantly latino community. >> mostly illegal? >> i think it was a combination, yeah. there were a lot of immigrant families, but, you know, that were also the legal and illegal families. >> how did the legals view the illegals? >> i'm not too sure about that because as a child, i don't think i was too aware of that
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kind of response from the adults, but what i do remember the most is being shot when i got to school that most of the kids in my classroom were dark skin and they got just look like me and they had last names like garcia and hernandez. they could speak a language i couldn't speak. that was shocking to me because they looked dpactly like me, and yet they weren't and but i would say that was probably the first time i was really aware of the fact that there were latinos but they were different from me. >> you were in esl classes? english as a second language classes? >> yes. was that a second class citizens type thing? >> yeah.
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definitely. being an esl student, that's who you are, and that's the way people treat you like an outsider, and definitely there's a sense of separation. the kids that can speak english, they hang out in the own circle and the esl kids would hang out near the classroom or the esl classroom and i do remember like wanting to fit in, but not being able to because i was an sl student. i worked hard at trying to finish my esl classes and get out of program. so by the time i was in eighth grade, i was enrolled in regular eighth grade english. >> there's a picture we're going to show on the air with you and a sax phone. tell us the story the sax is the sax something i discovered at burbank junior high school in seventh grade.
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my cons already enrolled me in band and it wasn't something they chose. they put me there. it was an elective. which i didn't elect. i was lucky to have been put in that class because when i walked in there and the teacher said, which instrument do you want to play? and i first i thought i had to pay for them. i say how much does it cost? and when he said it doesn't cost you anything, it just seemed like the whole world opened up to me. and i got to choose whichever instrument i wanted. i saw the sax is a phone it's the one i wanted. >> do you play it today? >> i i don't play anymore and i haven't since i graduated from pass deana city college. i never owned my own. they didn't have marring band. i didn't have anything to join. and then i discovered a whole bunch of other things, i got in
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to dance, i got in to filming video and all the other things i was doing and i really missed the instrument. i wanted to get back in to plying, ab then one of my teachers pulled my aside one day and she said, it's god that you're creative and you love to explore and learn new things, but you need to choose one thing that you want to focus on because otherwise you're going to be a jack of all trades. and i went home that day and i thought, what is that i cannot live without? that's what i decided that writing was the one thing i couldn't live without. i gave up everything else and focused on my writer. >> you a your book ran a book award and "dancing butterflies" won a national latino book award if 2010.
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this is the first non-fiction the memoir. it's a personal memoir. >> it is extremely personal, yes. that's the only way i know how to write, and even with my finks, even though it is fiction, it's also inspired by personal experiences. and with the memoir, you know, there were many times when i was afraid to go there because it was extremely personal and i wasn't just writing about myself, i was writing about my family, about my parents and there were many times when i felt that i was writing things i shouldn't. but then i felt that if i was going write a memoir, i needed to be completely honest with the story, and to turn my pain and my fear in to my strength instead of them being my
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weaknesses. >> renee grande, did you write this book originally in english or spanish? >> i always write in english first. unfortunately when i came to the country, i got so obsessed with learning english, i know neglected my native tongue. for many years all i did was eat and breathe english to the point that when i got college i was the writing tutor and i was tutoring native english speakers and teaching them how to write better english. but when i was in college, i got exposed to pan spanish for spanish speakers. that's what i took the classes and i said, i'm going reclaim my native tongue. i tbli english because it's so natural to me that i don't have to think about the language vocabulary as i'm writing. the times when i have tried to write in spanish i have to pick
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up the dictionary every single minute. and it pulls me out of the story because i have to think about the vocabulary. so as a comprise, i write everything in english then i go my own translations. so i translated a couple hundred mountains myself and "distance between us" will be published in spanish next year. i did the translation also. >> do your novels sell well in the spanish language? >> my novels don't sell as well in spanish as they go in english. i think that's the case for most folks that are published here in spanish that the spanish -- books don't have the same kind of stuff as the english books. i think part of that is because, you know, people can -- the readers for spanish books can afford to buy -- can't afford to buy a book and they don't have access to the books, you know,
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especially in low-income communicates. there are no bookstores anymore. and i think it's hard for them to really get access to the books. >> we're talking talking with rhee that grande "the distance between us" a memoir published by simon and shoe here is. >> it's tell us the life story? [laughter] the life story. you mean the -- the life when you went to school and they did a sanitation check on you? >> okay. about that one. okay. yeah. when i came to the elementary in fifth grade, one day the nurse showed up and the teacher said, she's come to inspect all the kids for lice. and i was so shocked because i could understand if it happened in mexico because all of us had lice, you know, we were all like, you know, poor kids coming to school bare foolt and dirty
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and we all had lice. in l.a., i just didn't expect there to be lice, and for a second there, i thought that maybe they had crossed the border illegally like i had and yeah, and i got inspected and it turned out that i had lice, and i was so afraid to go home and tell that to my dad. because i didn't want him to think that i was so the dirty little girl he had left behind in mexico. and i thought he was going to beat me as well because that was his favorite way of disciplining us. and it turned out that my father was not angry at me. he didn't blame me. and he didn't beat me. and it was a beautiful moment. he took me out to the yard and he looked for lice and he cleaned out my hair and he spend like two hours looking through my hair, looking for lice, and
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he was so gentle when he did it, that it was just like, such a painfully beautiful moment for me. and then he was telling me stories about when was a baby. of course, i didn't remember it. but he was before he came to the u.s., before he left me in mexico, he told me that every time he would come home for lunch during his break, i would be waiting out with a bowl and i would tell him, you know, to give me a bath. i wouldn't let anybody bath me except for him. every day he could come and basically spend his whole lunch hour giving me a bath instead of eating. he said that i wouldn't have it any other way. and when he told me that, like, i just i don't know, i thought it was a beautiful moment. that i got share with him. >> that's one of the few in your book that tender and beautiful about your father. >> yes.
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yes. my father was a very complicated man, you know, and he had -- he was suffering from alcoholism, and he was suffering, i think, from also a bad upbringing, his parents were very abusive toward him and unfortunately he repeated the same sickle with us. -- cycle with us. as i was a writing a memoir, even though i was writing about the very hard painful moments that i spend with him and suffering from a lot of abuse, i also got a chance to revisit all the happy memories and one of the things that i hope most -- is something that my father taught me to value education. he was such a tyranted about it. he often threatened to send me back to mexico if i didn't do well in school. but . >> is that a scary threat. >> it was a scary threat. i did believe him. i believed that .
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>> you didn't want to go back to mexico. >> i didn't want to go back to mexico. i wanted to make him proud and another thing iflght too because i begged him to bring me, i felt that i owed him that. i felt that i never wanted my father to say, i shouldn't have brought you. and it was that that really, like, like, always motivate me to do really well in school, to do all the great things that he wanted me to do because i didn't want to hear that ever from my dad. he never said to me. he didn't. but, yeah, i mean, my dad. as i was writing the book, i wantedded to make sure that he didn't come across as the villain in the story, i -- really. wanted to give him husband humanity. he had some great things, my dad, he was also canceling with a -- dealing with a lot of difficulty that unfortunately
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affected our relationship. >> you tell a story about how you. wanted to go to church and he held up a bud wiser and said this is my god. >> yes. >> when which d he pass? >> last year. alcoholism? yes. liver cancer. and he got diagnosed with sorosis back in '93, he never told us. he kept drinking. and he actually gave up drinking in the late '90s he gave up drinking and he became very religious, he was seventh dayed a venntist. he never got himself checked and then a year and a half ago when he went the doctor they told him he had liver cancer. and he really held on to the hope that he would get better, he would a transplant at some point and he just never came out of the hospital. >> did his sobering up change your relationship? >> not too much because by the
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time he sobered up things had gotten way too bad. and even though had had issuered up, he was still very distant and he traded one obsession for another. he went from being an alcoholic obsessed with alcohol to being this religious fanatic. and i remember a lot of times that my siblings and i would invote him to the family gathers. he wouldn't come because he had to be at church. he always had to be church, and we always felt like we lose either way, you know, he could be an alcoholic or he could be religion. we are going to lose anyway. he'll never makes his priority. and i remember when i got married, he was going to walk me down the aisle, and he was looking at the clock saying, what time is this wedding going start?
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i have to go to my church. hurry up. and i just felt so hurt. it's like, i only get married once here, you know. your church is there. it's always going to be there. he kept like looking at the clock and then we were done with the ceremony, he like took off right after that, like, he stayed for the reception like for a little bit, but i felt so horrible the whole time thinking that i'm never going to be more important to my father than other things, and it really hurt mae lot. >> where does your mother figure in this story? >> i hardly ever talk about my mother. i have a lot of issues with my mom. and anybody who reads the memoir will know why. but my mother, she's still alive. she's in l.a. she lives about twenty minutes away from me. and it's been actually now that i've become a writer and i have
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to travel a lot, i have to say that in a way helped me to have a better relationship with her because she, like right now that i'm here, she's with my children, you know, and she comes over. she takes care of them. she really tries to help me out whenever she can. and then also it has helped me to understand her morally having my own children. i can understand now what it's like to be torn between being a mother and being a woman with her own dreams and aspirations, and every time i have to leave my house and my daughter asks me how long i'm going to be gone, i remember my mother and how i would ask her how long she was going to be gone. and i really do understand, you know, how hard it is to be torn in to and to want to do right by
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your kids and at the same time want to go off to the world to pursue your own dreams. so i a better relationship now with my mother. definitely, i mean, there's an emotional distance and i think there will always been an emotional distance. >> because sometimes your mother wouldn't or would be gone for years. >> yes. she came to the u.s. and you didn't know it. >> right. and, you know, my mother has not changed a whole lot. she still is like that in a way. where she does things and we don't fit in to the equation sometimes and it's been a struggle to try to get her to be a little more motherly. but yeah, i think at this point, we have come to accept that's the way she is. and we just take her as she is and i think that if helps we're not disappointed.
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but i do hope that, you know, that could be a better grandmother and i know people change. i know, my good grandmother, my mother said she wasn't such a great mother to her, but to us, she was a most wonderful grandmother in the world. so i'm hoping that that is the way my children feel for her as well. that she's, you know, an awesome grandmother and that's automatic that i -- that's all i want, you know, for my kids to have a good relationship with her. >> has your mother been able to read this book or does she know what is in it? >> she hasn't been able to read the book in english. my mother does not speak english. she knows somewhat what is in it because i have told her this is a story about my childhood, and about my growing up in the u.s., and i write about you, i write about my dad, but i don't think my mother really understands
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what -- how i saw her as a daughter, and how her actions determined my childhood, you know, and how my childhood was really defined by her absence. i don't think she understands that. so i am curious to see what she's going say when the spanish version comes out. [laughter] yeah. >> "the distance between us." has anyone compared this to when i read it, i thought about -- [inaudible] >> yes. hector, who writes the review for the "l.a. times," that's what he compared it to in the review, and i was just like beyond honored to be even in the same sentence as angela because,
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i mean, that's such a wonderful book and it's one of my favorite books, and for someone to say that my book is, you know, the angela sanchez of the mexican immigrant experience. i was thrilled. there are similarities, you know, i mean, we both talk about poverty, about the many -- about our relationship with our participants -- parents with just struggling to overcome, you know, all the obstacles and being able to go above and beyond what we thought we ever could. so there are many similarities although i think, you know, one of the best things about angela is that there's so much humor that balances all that depressing stuff that is written about. and i'm not very humorous,
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unfortunately, i would love to write more humor in my work but i write from a deep place that has mostly pain and sadness. i was thinking how similar we are. she painted from a place of pain. that's the way i write. when i'm happy i cannot write when i'm happy. and it's something i tell my husband. he's so wonderful. i have to tell him so you to make me miserable so i can. i'm so happy. it is hard to write when i feel god. >> do you think your experience coming across the border growing up the way you did is an illegal
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immigrant, is it a common experience, do you think? >> it's definitely very common especially, i mean, like my experience of being a child left behind separated from my parents and being brought here to the u.s. as a child by my parents, it's very common, i mean, when i was researching this topic, i learned that 80 percent of the latin american children in u.s. schools get separated from a parent in process of migration. so, i mean, that's a lot of kids that are being separated from parents who are coming here, you know, as undocumented child immigrants, and so cefnlt my experience is not unique, but not -- there's a not a lot of awareness or what people talk about immigration, very seldom do they consider, you know, that other side of immigration

Book TV
CSPAN November 22, 2012 3:00pm-3:30pm EST

Reyna Grande Education. (2012) 'The Distance Between Us A Memoir.'

TOPIC FREQUENCY Us 20, Mexico 10, United States 7, U.s. 6, L.a. 5, Angela 2, Anna 1, Renee Grande 1, Ak Acapulco 1, Simon 1, Sorosis 1, Garcia 1, George Mason 1, Loying 1, Hernandez 1, Mexico City 1, Angela Sanchez 1, Southern Mexico 1, Hector 1, Me 1
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